Ahmaud Arbery Was ‘Dead Before He Hit the Ground,’ Medical Examiner Says

Travis McMichael’s first shot at Ahmaud Arbery severed a vital artery in his wrist and a left a gaping hole in his chest, the medical examiner said.
Ahmaud Arbery’s injuries were too severe to survive, forensic pathologist Edmund Donoghue told the court Tuesday.
Ahmaud Arbery’s injuries were too severe to survive, forensic pathologist Edmund Donoghue told the court Tuesday. Photo by Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

There was nothing emergency responders could have done to save Ahmaud Arbery after Travis McMichael fired his shotgun at the 25-year-old Black jogger at point-blank range, a pathologist told the court Tuesday.

Edmund Donoghue, the medical examiner who conducted Arbery’s autopsy, said just one of the three shots fired from McMichael’s gun caused life-threatening injuries, including the severing of an artery in his wrist that Arbery likely wouldn’t have recovered from.

“The phrase you used when you talked to us in March was, ‘He was essentially dead before he hit the ground,’ correct?” defense attorney Robert Rubin asked Donoghue.

“Yes,” Donoghue said.


Travis McMichael, his father Gregory, and William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., all white men, are each facing nine charges, including for murder, for chasing Arbery in their pickup trucks on Feb. 23, 2020, suspecting he’d burglarized a vacant home in their Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood. The McMichaels eventually confronted Arbery, who was out for a jog, with Travis shooting him twice after a brief scuffle. If found guilty, each man could face life in prison.

During his near two-hour-long testimony, Donoghue walked jurors through graphic video and photographic evidence of Arbery’s various injuries. The first shot hit Arbery in the center of his chest, leaving a gaping hole, and his left wrist, where a vital artery was severed by the shotgun pellets. According to Donoghue, the muzzle of the gun was somewhere between 3 and 20 inches from Arbery’s torso when it was fired. Arbery’s hand was in front of his chest when he was first shot, likely in an attempt to push the gun’s tip away from him.

Responders “could have put an occlusive dressing on the large defect, but you would still have the exit defects in the back of the chest, and they couldn’t do anything about the bleeding as long as the heart was beating,” Donoghue told prosecutor Linda Dunikoski.

According to Donoghue, parts of the video captured by Bryan, the McMichaels’ co-defendant, show arterial spurts from Arbery’s arm, evidence of just how severe the blood loss was.

The second shot McMichael fired missed him altogether, and the third struck Arbery in the left side of his chest near his underarm, tearing through axillary veins and arteries in that part of his body, Donoghue said. In all, the shots broke five of Arbery’s ribs, fractured his left shoulder bone and humerus, and penetrated the middle and lower parts of his right lung, sternum, and wrist.


“It becomes difficult and painful to breathe,” Donoghue said of the injuries to his chest. “The intercostal arteries run on the edge of those ribs so you would bleed into the chest cavity.”

Donoghue said abrasions to Arbery’s brow, upper lip, and side of his face show that Arbery fell to the ground face-first without instinctually protecting himself, evidence that he likely lost consciousness shortly after he was shot the second time. 

The expert also said there’s evidence that Arbery’s left arm was paralyzed as a result of the second shot that hit him. In the video, Arbery’s left hand can be seen bending and pointing backwards in what Donoghue called the “waiter’s tip” position, a sign of severe nerve trauma called Erb’s palsy.

Donoghue said one of the few reasons Arbery was able to continue standing while confronting the McMichaels was because of the adrenaline and his body’s natural fight-or-flight response. 

Defense attorneys during cross-examination asked Donoghue if that response could have been triggered by being caught doing something wrong at the time of the chase.

“You described the basis for the adrenaline dump and cortisol running through his veins as caused by stress or fear, anger,” Rubin said. “You have no idea what he was afraid of, at that point in time, correct?”

“Well, there’s a man holding a shotgun after him,” Donoghue said. “And there was a man following him in a pickup truck.”

“Could have been afraid of being caught,” Rubin retorted. “Do you know if Mr. Arbery was afraid of being caught?”

“I don’t,” Donoghue said.

Tuesday marked Day 8 in the trial of Arbery’s killers. In addition to Donoghue, prosecutors called three agents for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to testify about where exactly Arbery ran the day he was killed and their findings once they took over the investigation last May.